After weeks of brushing off the COVID-19 pandemic as “dumb,” the billionaire Tesla founder earlier this week announced he had 1,000 “FDA-approved ventilators” and ended up donating 40 to New York City’s hospital system. Except the devices Musk gave away aren’t powerful enough to use in the ICU, and health officials have actually warned against using them on COVID-19 patients because they could spread the virus further.
What Musk purchased and gave to New York’s hospitals were BiPAP machines made by ResMed, a photo shared by the hospital system reveals. ResMed CEO Mick Farrell later confirmed Musk’s purchase of 1,000 5-year-old “bi-level, non-invasive ventilators” known as BiPAPs to CNBC, and said it was “fantastic” that Tesla could transport ResMed’s product like it did.
But hospitals are far more desperate for ventilators more invasive than BiPAP and CPAP machines, which are usually used to treat sleep apnea — many doctors don’t even call them “ventilators,” the Los Angeles Times‘ Russ Mitchell reports. In fact, CPAP machines may have only helped spread COVID-19 through the nursing home outside Seattle that was the center of the U.S.’s initial coronavirus outbreak, NPR reports. These machines can “possibly increase the spread of infectious disease by aerosolizing the virus,” NPR writes. Health officials in King County, Washington, have since warned against using CPAP machines on coronavirus patients, as did the American Society of Anesthesiologists back in February.
What would actually help, Farrell added to CNBC, is if Musk’s Tesla could produce and donate lithium ion batteries — ResMed can use them to make invasive ventilators that hospitals actually need.